Manufacturing is our great legacyCommunity Advisory Board

By BRUCE LOS

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    There are things in life that are waaaay more important than a job. Our core beliefs, family, our passions and dreams are the things that really define who we are and why we are here. We are blessed to live in a country where we are able to make choices and enjoy freedom like nowhere else in the world.A job doesn’t define us, it enables us.

    Once we define the stuff in the center of our life, we are able to start building on those dreams. Then we’re at the point where the stark reality of a JOB starts bumping up the priority list. Fast.

    Here’s where the legacy of manufacturing in West Michigan sets us apart from the rest of our state and the rest of this country. We make lots of things in this community that are sold to customers all around the world. Jobs where people make stuff pay pretty well. They have good benefits to take care of their families. I’ve worked in factories in this community and in many other communities around the world. People in West Michigan factories work pretty darn hard.

    We have a great culture of working together and producing high-quality products. In a survey of people across our community done by West Michigan Works, the data clearly show workers here understand the importance of teamwork, open communication, trust and doing whatever it takes to keep the customer wanting more truckloads of our widgets.

    We owe a huge debt to the entrepreneurs of the past 40 years. Haworth, Slikkers, Prince, Donnelly, Bauer, DePree, Mulder, Brooks, Heeringa, DeWitt: These names are synonymous with innovation, quality, design, fairness and care for their people and community. They understood that making things here was a good business decision because of the quality of people here. They knew that manufacturing was an economic engine that could benefit all.

    In addition to these well-known names, there is a crop of new entrepreneurs that have caught the dream and are launching a new generation of manufacturing jobs. We even have a business incubator at Lakeshore Advantage. It is tougher today, they must bring something special to the party. We all know that commodities can be produced across borders or oceans with low wages and few benefits. No whining about that, it is a fact.

    Now back to the people doing the real work.

    I’m not naive enough to believe that 36,260 manufacturing workers in Ottawa County drive into work at the start of every shift bubbling with excitement to assemble chairs, boats, car parts or some top-secret flux capacitors — most of it is very hard work. I do believe that each of them has a dream that this is helping them follow. They are working hard to make the best stuff they possibly can. Most of them know that there are people in other communities just waiting for a chance to make it. They know that there are no guarantees and there is no entitlement when it comes to making stuff. It has to be right and has to be on time.

    They are counting on their leadership to be fair, creative and honest. They deserve that.

    The magic of manufacturing jobs is that they bring new money here from around the world. Every job in manufacturing adds more than two jobs in local suppliers, retailers and infrastructure.

    Manpower Inc. recently forecast 7,410 new local manufacturing jobs in the coming six years. This includes the new jobs that will be available due to coming retirements. I think they are low.

    Thirty-one percent of all jobs here are in manufacturing — double the national average. We are blessed to have this legacy. This is a resource that we need to protect and nurture.

    Or someone else will make it.
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